Course Hero. "Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Sep. 2016. Web. 23 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/>.
Course Hero. (2016, September 2). Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 23, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide." September 2, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/.
Course Hero, "Their Eyes Were Watching God Study Guide," September 2, 2016, accessed July 23, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Their-Eyes-Were-Watching-God/.
Janie begins her narrative by telling Pheoby of her childhood. She explains that she never saw her father or her mother and that her grandmother raised her. Janie lived with Nanny in a house close to the Washburns, the white family Nanny worked for. Nanny cared for their four grandchildren, three boys and a girl, in addition to Janie. Janie didn't know she was black until she saw a photograph of herself when she was about six years old.
Janie recalls that the schoolchildren bullied her at school because she lived in the white family's backyard and because she wore nicer hand-me-down clothes than the rest of the African American children did. She remembers that the children also teased her, saying her father had run away from the law.
When Janie is 16 years old, she kisses Johnny Taylor by the gate, an event that, Janie tells Pheoby, marked "the end of her childhood." Seeing the kiss, Nanny decides Janie must get married. When Janie pouts in protest, Nanny slaps her. Nanny explains her view of the reality of the world: black women are "de mule uh de world." While white men hand off hard labor to black men, those men pass the work on to their women. Nanny insists that the best thing Janie can do is to marry Logan Killicks; he will protect her, and Nanny will know that she is "safe in life." Although Janie begs to be able to wait for marriage, Nanny does not back down.
Nanny 's decision to marry Janie off is based on her own history, which she recounts to Janie. During the Civil War, she was a slave near Savannah, Georgia, and had a child fathered by the plantation's master. When the mistress of the plantation became aware of this, she threatened to sell Nanny's baby. The next day, Nanny ran away and hid her baby, Leafy. After the end of the Civil War, Nanny went to West Florida with Leafy. At the age of 17, Leafy was raped by a white teacher and became pregnant with Janie. After having Janie, Leafy ran away. Nanny related this story so that Janie would understand her fear that the terrible cycle might begin again. At the end of the chapter, Janie recounts how Nanny says she did the best she could and asks for Janie's forgiveness.
Chapter 2 provides important background information about Janie's childhood. It also gives the reader insight into why Nanny wants Janie to marry though she is only 16. Nanny is motivated by love, but her outlook on love and marriage is also informed by her own bitter experiences.
In Chapter 2, Hurston introduces the themes of race and gender identity. Janie's innocence as a child is evident in her not recognizing that she was black until she was six years old. When she expressed surprise at the discovery, the Washburns all laughed at her. While their laughter might be seen as good-natured humor in the face of childhood innocence, there is a more serious view of it as well. Race was a fact of life in the segregated South of the time; it could not be escaped.
The histories of both Nanny and Leafy reflect the themes of race and gender. In both their cases, white men exercised their power over African American women, leaving them with the consequences. Forced to have her master's child, Nanny had only the power to run away when the mistress of the plantation threatened to whip her and sell Leafy. While the teacher who raped Leafy tried to find her to marry her, Janie's classmates teased her about the bloodhounds being put on his trail for what he did to Leafy. This history convinced Nanny that she must do something in order to keep Janie safe when she is no longer alive to protect her granddaughter. Nanny was old and tired by this time, and her sense of her own impending death prompted this push to ensure Janie's future. Nanny's view of race and gender is summarized in the symbol of the mule, which places African American women at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Chapter 2 introduces the symbol of the pear tree. On the day she kissed Johnny Taylor, Janie first spent a long time observing pollinating bees buzzing around a blossoming pear tree in the yard, leading her to think "So this was a marriage!" The experience symbolizes her sexual awakening. She longed to be "any tree in bloom" and wondered "where were the singing bees for her?" Then she saw Johnny. But she no longer saw him as "shiftless," as she had before. Now "the golden dust of pollen had beglamored his rags and her eyes." This transforming experience led to their kiss. This erotic symbol of the union of the bee and the pear tree blossom recurs throughout the novel.
The gate symbol figures in this episode. Janie and Johnny Taylor kissed by Nanny's gate. The gate represents the beginning of a new experience. By kissing Johnny by the gate, Janie was exploring her attraction to boys. At the same time, the kiss led to a pivotal moment in Janie's life, her coerced marriage to Logan Killicks. Janie may have seen the gate as a safe place, a somewhat sheltered spot because it was near home, where she could experiment with a new experience. But gates open lives in new and unexpected ways.